The capitulation of national GOP leaders to the candidacy of Donald Trump was a mild shock. As soon as they realized his candidacy had real traction you could sense their fear. Trump took their traditional dog whistles and made them audible for all to hear. These messages were meant to be coded, appealing to the lowest class of Americans– bigots– and not meant to be serious policy positions. Donald Trump has shown, repeatedly, that these messages have a wider appeal than just the open bigots of the former Confederacy. In fact, the GOP’s pandering to that element has spread the diseases across the nation. White, working-class, evangelical Christian males seem particularly susceptible to the illness. As plausible candidates began to fall the GOP was left to reckon with the monster they created. Do you stand with this odious con-man, subvert the democratic process within your party (forever fracturing it by proving to the “common man” that you do not care about their voice), run an alternative candidate, or abandon the party. The overwhelming majority chose to back the charlatan or simply stay quiet.
That is insufficient.
Donald Trump has made it abundantly clear that he lacks the knowledge, temperament, or capacity to govern effectively. Beyond being wholly unqualified for office, in a way that no candidate in the modern era has been, he frequently and repeatedly illustrates that he has no regard for the US Constitution, the rights of citizenship, basic Enlightenment principles on human rights, or the rest of the foundational ideas that this nation was built on. He is simply the most unAmerican candidate for President that has ever existed.
The GOP still thinks they are in charge here. That they can tone down Donald Trump and “work with him.” Reince Priebus, whose disastrous run as chairman of the Republican National Committee watched the party drive off a cliff this election cycle, has held repeated discussions with Trump over the last several months asking him to tone down his rhetoric and tack back to reality. He specifically asked him to stop his racist attacks on Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel of Federal District Court, who is overseeing a suit against the now-defunct Trump University. Trump has rejected his “advice” at every turn.
Most Republicans simply do not know what to do. Those running for re-election find themselves backing Trump on one side as he is extremely popular with the rank-and-file base of the party whose support they must have to be elected, while discrediting and distancing themselves in the other side, unable to fully embrace the hate like he does. Take these comments from three prominent Republican Senators in the New York Times:
Republican candidates in tough races this fall were left to fend for themselves. Senator Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire called on Mr. Trump to retract his comments about Judge Curiel, calling them “offensive and wrong.”
Other candidates lay low. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a former rival of Mr. Trump’s, and Senator Susan Collins of Maine both criticized Mr. Trump, yet neither they nor Ms. Ayotte indicated that they would reject his candidacy.
“I continue to hope that Mr. Trump will rethink his position and take back those words and show respect for the separation of powers doctrine that is enshrined in our Constitution,” Ms. Collins said in an interview. “I continue to believe in redemption.”
Redemption requires introspection, admission of wrong-doing, and a willingness to humble oneself. None of these are behaviors historically associated with Donald Trump.
To put it bluntly, the Democrats have the GOP cornered here. Every time Trump does something Trump-like they will call Republicans to task for his behavior, forcing them to either denounce his stupid and hateful actions or compromise what is left of their integrity. The Times quotes from Steve Israel illustrate this nicely:
“Trump’s incendiary comments about Judge Curiel were the final straw,” said Representative Steve Israel, Democrat of New York. He added, referring to Speaker Paul D. Ryan, “We’re not going to let Speaker Ryan and House Republicans spend every day criticizing Trump with one hand and endorsing him with the other.”
I feel none of the glee that Democrats I know express over this situation. It is bad for the country. But I also have no sympathy for the Republican party– this is the bed they have made for themselves.
Republicans have two choices. Continue to support Trump and tie themselves to his outrageous statements or break from Trump and risk alienating their base. The Democrats will not let them play the middle game. As Harry Reid pointed out, “This is precisely the type of failure that gave rise to Donald Trump in the first place.” It seems obvious that most will choose the first path. Alienating the base whose support for Trump only seems to keep growing is political suicide. But at some point conservatives have to start asking themselves if their elected positions and party power are really worth anything if they have to be subordinated to the whims of racists and xenophobes….
Lindsay Graham, suddenly the voice of reason and sanity in a party that has gone completely off the rails, was one of the few Republican to take this approach. As he has said since he dropped out of the race, it is clear that his party has become “bat-shit crazy.” He has given some credence to the notion that the bigotry and hate that liberals claimed for the last 50 years were at the heart of issues like states’ rights, limited government, and the culture wars wasn’t just some academic theory, historical relic, or political talking point– it is quite clearly alive and well in the GOP base. Rather than tip-toeing around the issue, Graham went straight for the jugular, urging his fellow Republicans to rescind their endorsements of Trump after he doubled-down and said that he also didn’t think a Muslim judge could remain neutral in a case against him. As Graham said, “This is the most un-American thing from a politician since Joe McCarthy.”
Graham added that if folks on the right were finally seeing the light with regards to the dangers of Trump and the populist movement he has created that this opportunity was the “off-ramp” they were looking for. I think ideological conservatives should take this a step further. It is not just an off-ramp for the Trump presidency, this is your off-ramp from the Republican party. I’ll let Michael Reagan explain why:
As Graham put it, “There’ll come a time when the love of country will trump hatred of Hillary.” That time is now. And if those responsible GOP members can find a way to hold their nose and support Hillary for the love of their country, whether directly or indirectly, perhaps this will also be a moment for re-examining political affiliation. If they did, they might notice that the Democratic party of the last 30 years has done a better job than the Republican party of fulfilling the dual commitments that used to be the central platform for intellectual conservatism: free-market capitalism and individual freedom. The GOP may have left you, but the establishment of the Democratic party has not.
Perhaps it is time for conservative elites to make peace with the culture wars, the Southern Strategy, and “Compassionate Conservatism” and come home to the Democratic party. The alternative is living in shame with the Trumpified corpse of the GOP.